In 1850, backwoodsman Adam Pontipee comes into a town in the Oregon Territory to search for a bride. Met with ridicule by some locals, he comes upon the local tavern where he meets Milly. Convinced of her worth by the quality of her cooking and her insistence on finishing her chores before she would leave with him, he proposes and she accepts despite knowing each other for only a few hours.
On the journey home Milly talks about how she is excited to be cooking and taking care of only one man, visibly upsetting Adam. When they arrive at his cabin in the mountains, Milly is surprised to learn that Adam is one of seven brothers living under the same roof. The brothers have been named alphabetically from the Old Testament in order of birth: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank (short for frankincense, the Old Testament having no names beginning with F), and Gideon. All of the brothers have red hair and all but Gideon are well over six feet tall. Understandably sad about having to tend to the needs of not one, but seven men, and with an idea to solve the situation, a smart and reasonable Milly decides to marry Adam's brothers off to some girls from the town.
During an attempt to accomplish this, Milly teaches Adam's rowdy, ill-behaved younger brothers some manners and social mores. She also shows them how to dance. At first, the brothers have a hard time changing from their "mountain man" ways, but eventually each comes to see that the only way he will get a woman of his own is to do things Milly's way. They try out their new manners and make an attempt to begin courting the girls. This takes place at a social gathering in the town (dance + barn-raising), where they meet six women they like – Dorcas, Ruth, Martha, Liza, Sarah, and Alice. The girls take a fancy to the brothers as well. However, they already have suitors among the young men of the town, who jealously taunt the brothers into fighting during the barn-raising. At first the six brothers remember Milly's teaching and try to resist being drawn into a fight by accepting physical indignities. Adam refuses to let himself be pushed around by the rival suitors and calls his younger brothers cowards for letting them get away with their behavior. The girls' suitors from the town finally go too far when they attack Adam, provoking Gideon into fighting back. A free-for-all ensues in which the brothers dominate their physically weaker townie rivals. Although the Pontipees did not start the fight, they are banished from the town after demolishing the barn they were raising in the course of the brawl.
Winter finds the six younger brothers pining for the girls for whom they had fallen fast and hard. Milly asks Adam to talk to the brothers as she fears they will want to leave because of missing the girls. Adam reads his brothers the story of "The Sobbin' Women" (taken from Plutarch's story of the Sabine Women), one of the books Milly brought to the homestead. He tells them that they should stop moping around and take whatever action is necessary to get their women. Aided by Adam, the brothers kidnap the six girls, then cause an avalanche in Echo Pass so that they cannot be followed by the townspeople. The only problem: they forgot to bring the parson to perform the marriages.
Milly is furious with Adam, as are the six kidnapped women. Milly consigns the brothers to the barn "with the rest of the livestock" while the women live in the house. Adam, feeling betrayed by Milly's reaction, leaves for the trapping cabin farther up the mountain to live out the winter by himself, unknowingly hurting Milly's feelings. Soon after, Milly realizes that she is pregnant by Adam.
The winter months slowly pass. The women vent their frustration and resentment by playing pranks on the brothers, such as hitting them with rock-filled snowballs and dumping basins of wash water on them. By spring, the women have forgiven their kidnappers and fallen in love with the brothers, who are now allowed to court them. Milly gives birth to a daughter, Hannah. Gideon rides to the cabin to inform Adam of his daughter's arrival and asks him to come home. Adam refuses, saying that he had said he would return home only when the snow had melted enough that the pass was open to traffic.
Having time to think about his baby daughter, Adam returns home in the spring just as Echo Pass is opening and reconciles with Milly. As a newly responsible father, he has become aware of how worried the townspeople would be about what has happened to the six abducted girls. Adam realizes he was wrong to tell his brothers to kidnap them. He tells his brothers they need to take the women back to their homes in town, but his brothers are unwilling. The six women also do not want to return to their homes; they all want to stay at the farm with their new suitors and hide so they will not be taken back home. When Milly discovers that the women are not in the house, Adam tells his brothers to go after them and bring them back.
The townspeople arrive with the intention of lynching the Pontipee brothers for the kidnappings. Upon finding the brothers trying to force the women to return, the fathers believe their daughters are being assaulted and charge to their rescue. Alice's father (Ian Wolfe), a preacher, hears baby Hannah cry in the distance, and worries that the baby might belong to one of the kidnapped girls. The fathers and other townsmen round up the Pontipees and announce they intend to hang them.
Alice's father, the Reverend Alcott, asks the women whose baby he had heard. They all decide, simultaneously, to claim the baby as their own. This misinformation gives the women and the brothers their wish: the townspeople, including the girls' fathers, insist that all six couples marry at once in a shotgun wedding, performed by the parson while Adam and Milly watch and the fathers stand behind their daughters' grooms, shotguns over their arms.
The Brothers and their Brides:Howard Keel as Adam and Jane Powell as Milly
Jeff Richards as Benjamin and Julie Newmar (Newmeyer) as Dorcas
Matt Mattox as Caleb and Ruta Lee (Kilmonis) as Ruth
Marc Platt as Daniel and Norma Doggett as Martha
Jacques d'Amboise as Ephraim and Virginia Gibson as Liza
Tommy Rall as Frank and Betty Carr as Sarah
Russ Tamblyn as Gideon and Nancy Kilgas as Alice
To perform the dance numbers and action sequences, choreographer Michael Kidd wanted dancers to portray all six of Adam Pontipee's brothers. Kidd said that he "had to find a way to have these backwoods men dance without looking ridiculous. I had to base it all around activities you would accept from such people – it couldn't look like ballet. And it could only have been done by superbly trained dancers." However, he was able to integrate into the cast two non-dancer MGM contract players who were assigned to the film, Jeff Richards, who performed just the simpler dance numbers, and Russ Tamblyn, utilizing him in the dance numbers by exploiting his talents as a gymnast and tumbler.
The other four brothers were portrayed by professional dancers – Matt Mattox, Marc Platt, Tommy Rall, and Jacques d'Amboise. All four balanced on a beam together during their barn-raising dance.
The wood-chopping scene in Lonesome Polecat was filmed in a single take.Adam (light green shirt): Howard Keel, a professional singer, appeared as the eldest of the seven brothers. He also appeared as Petruchio in the film version of Kiss Me Kate, and appeared, in leading roles, in other musical films including Rose Marie and Show Boat.
Benjamin (orange shirt): Jeff Richards was a former professional baseball player who topped out at the AAA level of the minor leagues. Although obviously athletic, he is noticeably in the background, seated, or standing during the dance numbers so as to not expose his lesser dancing skills. This often relegated his partner, the classically trained ballet dancer Julie Newmar, to the background as well.
Caleb (yellow shirt): Matt Mattox, a professional dancer, appeared on stage on Broadway and also danced in many Hollywood musical films. His singing voice for the film was dubbed by Bill Lee.
Daniel (mauve shirt): Marc Platt, a professional dancer, danced the role of Chalmers / Dream Curly in the original 1943 Broadway production of Oklahoma! and also had a dancing/speaking role in the 1955 film version of Oklahoma! as the friend of Curly who bought Curly's saddle for $10 at the auction and who said that Ado Annie's pie had given him a 'three day bellyache'.
Ephraim (dark green shirt): Jacques d'Amboise, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, was given special leave for the filming of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (although he was recalled before filming was completed). He also danced in other musical films, including the ballet role of the Starlight Carnival "barker" in the film Carousel (in which he partnered Susan Luckey in Louise's ballet). The Academy Award and Tony Award winning documentary film, He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' is about Jacques d'Amboise and his teaching children how to dance.
Frank (red shirt): Tommy Rall, a professional dancer and singer, appeared on stage on Broadway and in many musical films. These included the role of Bill Calhoun (Lucentio) in the film version of Kiss Me Kate – and as one of the Gallini brothers in the film Merry Andrew (including him being one of the three featured acrobatic dancers in the circus engagement scene – Tommy Rall is the dancer in the center wearing the red shirt). He was also in the film Funny Girl, in the role of the Prince who partnered Barbra Streisand in a parody of the ballet Swan Lake.
Gideon (blue shirt): Russ Tamblyn was cast in the role of youngest brother Gideon. Tamblyn showcased his gymnastics training throughout the action sequences.
Professional dancers played all seven of the brides.
The four girls, whom Adam sees in the Bixby store when he first goes into town, are Dorcas, Ruth, Liza and Sarah.Milly: Jane Powell channeled her experiences growing up in Oregon to create Milly. She and Howard Keel would later reprise their roles in a Seven Brides for Seven Brothers stage revival. She also appeared in dancing and singing roles in many other musical films, including Royal Wedding, and Rich, Young and Pretty and also A Date with Judy.
Dorcas Gaylen: Julie Newmar (Newmeyer), wore a purple dress in the barn raising scene. Dorcas is one of the more confident girls, and has stated that she always wanted to be a June bride and have a baby right away. She is also the only girl shown to have a sibling, a younger sister. At the end of the film, she marries Benjamin. A classically trained ballerina, she would later rise to fame as Catwoman in the 1960s TV version of Batman. She also won a Supporting Actress Tony Award for The Marriage-Go-Round (starring Claudette Colbert). She appeared on her neighbor James Belushi's sitcom According to Jim after the two settled a highly publicized lawsuit. Her singing voice for the film was dubbed by Betty Allen.
Ruth Jepson: Ruta Lee (Kilmonis) enjoyed a long stage and television career, appearing in dozens of films and TV series, working with Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis, Jr., Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, and Frank Sinatra. Lee appeared in the sitcom Roseanne as the first girlfriend of Roseanne's mother. Her singing parts for the film were dubbed in post-production by Betty Noyes. She is wearing a blue dress in the barn raising scene, and is shown to like baking pies. She marries Caleb.
Martha: Norma Doggett performed in the 1940s-50s Broadway shows Bells Are Ringing, Fanny, Wish You Were Here, Miss Liberty, and Magdalena. Her singing voice for the film was dubbed by Bobbie Canvin. She wears a green dress during the barn raising scene. She marries Daniel.
Liza: Virginia Gibson was nominated for a Tony Award in 1957 and performed regularly, as singer and dancer, on the Johnny Carson show. She wears a pink dress during the barn raising scene. She marries Ephraim.
Sarah Kine: Betty Carr was also a Broadway veteran, dancing in Damn Yankees, Happy Hunting, Mask and Gown, and Fanny (alongside Norma Doggett). Her singing voice for the film was dubbed by Norma Zimmer. She wears a yellow dress during the barn raising. She marries Frank.
Alice Elcott: Nancy Kilgas made her film debut in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The youngest of the girls in the story, she is especially close with Milly and wears a peach colored dress in the barn raising scene. Her father is the town reverend. Gideon falls in love with her at first sight. She danced in the film versions of Oklahoma!, Shake, Rattle & Rock!, and Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain. Her singing voice for the film was dubbed by Marie Greene.
Reverend Elcott (Ian Wolfe) is the local preacher and father of Alice, one of the brides. He is the officiant in both wedding ceremonies in the movie. A longtime Hollywood character actor, he is perhaps best remembered for his roles as Carter, chief clerk to "Wilfred the Fox," Sir Wilfred Roberts in Witness for the Prosecution; Mr. Atoz in the Star Trek episode "All Our Yesterdays"; as Father Joseph the Abbot in The Frisco Kid; and as "Hirsch," "Mrs. Carlson's" butler on WKRP in Cincinnati.
Pete Perkins (Howard Petrie) is a leading citizen of the town where the Pontipees do their trading. Another longtime Hollywood character actor, he is also known for his role as Tom Hendricks in Bend of the River and as Mr. Lattimore, the prosecuting attorney in the Randolph Scott movie Rage At Dawn.
Mrs. Bixby (Marjorie Wood), co-owner of the general store in the town. Perhaps best known for playing Lady Lucas opposite Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in Pride and Prejudice, she was a Hollywood veteran of 34 films going back to the silent movie era. She died a year after shooting wrapped on the movie.
Mr. Bixby (Russell Simpson), co-owner of the general store in the town. A longtime Hollywood actor with 244 movie and television credits to his name going well back into the silents in 1914, his best known roles are as Pa Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, and Red Kelly in San Francisco.
Harry (Earl Barton)
Matt (Dante DiPaolo)
Carl (Kelly Brown)
Ruth's Uncle (Matt Moore)
Dorcas' Father (Dick Rich)
Choreographer Michael Kidd originally turned down the film, recalling in 1997: "Here are these slobs living off in the woods. They have no schooling, they are uncouth, there's manure on the floor, the cows come in and out – and they're gonna get up and dance? We'd be laughed out of the house."
Lyricist Johnny Mercer said that the musical numbers were written at Kidd's behest, as an example "of how a songwriter sometimes has to take his cue from his collaborators." For example, Kidd explained to Mercer and dePaul his conception of the "Lonesome Polecat" number, the lament of the brothers for the women, and the two worked out the music and lyrics.
In his introduction to a showing on Turner Classic Movies on January 17, 2009, host Robert Osborne, as well as Jane Powell in her autobiography, The Girl Next Door, both say MGM was much less interested in Seven Brides than it was in Brigadoon which was also filming at the time, even cutting its budget and transferring the money to the Lerner and Loewe vehicle.
Most of the movie was shot on the MGM sound stages. One exterior sequence not filmed at the studio was shot on location at Corral Creek Canyon in Sun Valley, Idaho. It was here that the escape following the brothers' kidnapping their future brides and the avalanche that closed the pass was filmed.
On the 2004 DVD commentary, Stanley Donen states that the film was originally shot in two versions, one in CinemaScope and another in normal ratio, because MGM was concerned that not all theaters had the capability to screen it. Despite the fact that it cost more than the widescreen version to make, he says, the other version was never used. However both versions are available on the 2004 DVD release.
The dresses worn by the female cast were made from old quilts that costume designer Walter Plunkett found at the Salvation Army.
The "Main Title" is a medley of the songs "Sobbin' Women", "Bless Your Beautiful Hide" and "Wonderful, Wonderful Day".
In the film, Matt Mattox's voice is dubbed in by Bill Lee on "Lonesome Polecat". Mattox can be heard singing the song on the soundtrack album.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was the 5th most popular film at the British box office in 1955. According to MGM records it made $5,526,000 in the US and Canada and $3,877,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $3,198,000.
The film came in third in a BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the UK's "Number One Essential Musicals" and was listed as number eight in the "Top 10 MGM musicals" in the book Top 10 of Film by Russell Ash. In 2004, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." In 2006, it was ranked #21 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals. In 2008, the film was ranked number 464 in Empire magazine's list of the 500 greatest films of all time.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes awards Seven Brides for Seven Brothers an 88% "Fresh" rating based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The critics' consensus states: "Buoyed by crowd-pleasing tunes and charming performances, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers makes a successful transition from Broadway to screen that's sure to please the whole family."
The following slogan was used to publicize the film in 1954:Adam abducted Milly
Benjamin brought Dorcas
Caleb caught Ruth
Daniel detained Martha
Ephraim eloped with Liza
Frank fetched Sarah
Gideon grabbed Alice
2006: AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – #21
The 1978 stage musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is an adaptation of the film, with a book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay. Four songs from the film ("Bless Your Beautiful Hide", "Wonderful Wonderful Day", "Goin' Courtin'", and "Sobbin' Women") were kept for the stage musical; the rest of the score consisted of new songs written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn.
The TV series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, loosely based on the film, ran weekly on CBS from September 19, 1982 to March 23, 1983.
The 1982 Bollywood film Satte Pe Satta ("Seven On Seven") was a remake of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists: